During the Dark Ages of VHS we relied on our memories and the word of mouth they helped shape. Tales of key scenes from key movies whose titles we could barely recall, chosen exclusively for their shock value, became a kind of fan short hand. If you struck up a conversation with some random convention-goer, you wouldn’t get, “Hey, did you see Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead?” No. You’d get, “Hey, did you see that one where the priest hangs himself?”
Yes. Yes I have. It’s Lucio Fulci’s follow-up to Zombi 2, also known as The Gates of Hell or Paura nella città dei morti viventi (Fear in the City of the Dead). And despite being filmed on location…in America…and retitled with an eye toward the desperate Romero fan’s money, City has arguably even less to do with the Dead Mythos than George Romero’s last three Dead films. And I couldn’t be happier.
Because, you see, it’s a Lovecraftian film more than anything else (though old H.P. goes uncredited) and surprisingly effective for what it is…and what it is isn’t very nice. Straight adaptions of Lovecraft’s stories often run themselves aground searching for the right tone: a combination of existential dread and visceral revulsion that seems to occur to Fulci and screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti naturally. But like many a Lovecraft story, City bites off more than it can chew and ends on a somewhat unfulfilling note that just might ruin the whole damn thing for you. Continue reading City of the Living Dead (1980)